If there’s one thing Anne With An ‘E’ has gotten right in these first four episodes, it’s characterization. This version of Anne Shirley has all of the book character’s boundless imagination and stubborn pride. Marilla is every bit as layered, Matthew just as sweet, and Rachel just as strong and opinionated.
While the first three episodes introduced us to the main characters in Anne’s life: the Cuthberts, Diana, Rachel, and of course Gilbert Blythe, this one brought in a less important character, but nevertheless one whose appearance certainly gave most Anne of Green Gables fans a lot of feels. I think I appreciate Ruby Gillis’s character more every time I re-read the novels, and this version of her is everything I could have hoped for. I love that Ruby is getting a prominent role in Anne’s story, and I hope we get to see more of her in the future, because she has already stolen my heart.
THE LOONY BIN
I honestly couldn’t tell you if, as a kid, I related to Anne from the start because of her imagination, or if she inspired me to let my imagination run wild. Either way, the most important lessons Anne taught me when I was little was that there was nothing wrong with having a wild imagination: in fact, it was something to be proud of, something that could make my life better.
I’ve thought all along that something was slightly off with show’s portrayal of Anne’s imagination, and I think I’ve finally managed to place my finger on it. Maybe it’s because of the way they’re also bringing in her PTSD, but there were many times in this episode when Anne was off talking to herself, and it seemed almost sad. It almost seemed like Anne’s imagination was a refuge, a coping mechanism when things got really bad.
For instance, when she ran off to teach to acorns and trees in the woods, I felt bad for her, because she was so lonely and yet so desperate to learn. In contrast, if book Anne had done the same thing, I probably would have seen it as her going off and enjoying herself in the woods because she loves nature and doesn’t need other people to entertain her.
There’s a very good chance this is just me reading too much into something that wasn’t actually a deviation from the books, but it’s how I personally interpreted this show’s take on Anne’s wild imagination.
The wonderful thing about a book like Anne of Green Gables is that we can get something different out of it at every stage in our lives. When I was little, I was entranced by the time period the books were set in. At times, I’m pretty sure I actually wanted to live in it, even knowing the injustices I would have faced as a girl (I also desperately wanted to live in PEI, which was a much more reasonable goal. Maybe one day). There’s this village a few hours outside my city called Upper Canada Village, where you get to visit and act like you’re living in the early 20th century, and it was pretty much my favourite place in the world.
And yet, I’ve never felt like that idealization of such a problematic era ever instilled any archaic gender roles in me, and that’s because LM Montgomery really addressed it from a feminist perspective. Anne may like pretty clothes and domestic tasks, and she may end up being a housewife later on in life, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t also smart and capable and so much more than what her society thinks she should be.
The TV show is a lot more heavy-handed with those feminist themes, and it totally works. Anne is clearly limited in a world where a lot of very influential people actually believe that girls shouldn’t go to school. And as much as Anne struggles to fit in and loves to be outside, she also loves learning. That’s definitely something I can relate to.
Also, an underrated part of this episode was Marilla actually going against the church’s wishes and telling Anne to do whatever she wants. We saw in the last episode that Marilla isn’t ready to fully embrace progressive ideas just yet, but she at least recognizes that Anne is too smart to be relegated to the role of a housewife.
This is completely irrelevant, but I would just like to take a moment to say that I am very amused by Anne’s desire to visit Saskatchewan, of all the places in Canada. This episode was the first time I ever heard anyone utter the words “I would like to visit Saskatchewan,” and I am quite certain I will be the last. Saskatchewan even looks boring on a map. The only thing interesting about Saskatchewan is how boring it is. Saskatchewan is the reason people don’t do road trips across Canada. Everything seems cool and manageable until they reach the prairies and they’re like, ugh. Guess I’ll just pay for a plane ticket after all.
Rant over. Sorry to anyone reading this from Saskatchewan. Carry on.
RUBY GILLIS IS ADORABLE
In the books, Ruby and Anne’s friendship happens as so many childhood friendships do: by accident. They were in school together, they lived in the same town, and so they hung out. They got along well most of the time, but they were never as close as Anne and Diana.
In the TV series, it’s a bit more forced: the girls have to sort out their differences when Ruby’s house burns down and she comes to live with the Cuthberts. Anne, even knowing the disdain Ruby holds for her, comforts her classmate and eventually wins her over, as she wins over just about everyone she meets. It’s different, and yet it works.
I always liked Ruby the best out of all the other girls in Anne’s group. Jane was nice, but too plain and sensible for a spirit like Anne. Josie was too mean, and reminded me too much of all the on again, off again friendships I had in elementary school. But while I often rolled my eyes at Ruby’s antics, I enjoyed her character.
Ruby is the kind of girl people refer to when they say they’re “not like other girls.” She’s the vain, boy-obsessed princess who tries so hard to fit in and whose only goal in life is to get married. We’re always told that that’s a bad thing, but it’s not. In fact, Ruby might even have more in common with Anne than any of the other Avonlea girls: they’re both fanciful and vain, and of course both really, really big fans of romance stories.
One thing I always appreciated about this series is that Anne actually had friends, not just in spite of how different she was, but because of it. We’re often told that being different comes at the expense of being cool, but that’s not always the case. A lot of people actually really appreciate weirdness.
Anne With An ‘E’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.